NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Working in Development – Development Hell

After years as a development executive, Manny Fonseca is now on the other side of the table as a full-time writer and Podcaster. Now living the life of a writer, Manny is navigating a whole different side of Hollywood. You can follow him on Twitter: @mannyfonseca

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One of the worst things that can happen to a script in this town is have it die a slow death in development hell. In a way, as a writer myself, I would prefer flat out rejection rather than endure years of not really know what’s happening to a project. It’s brutal, trust me.

This week, let’s take a look at a rather famous story of development hell. While I have never signed any sort of confidentiality agreement, I’m going to protect my ass by skirting around some of the details, and I won’t mention the name of the script or the writer.

To be fair, it shouldn’t take some of you more savvy internet peeps too long to Google it.

FIRST, THE BACKSTORY…

This script has been floating around Hollywood going back as far as 2005, so I was not with the company when it came in. This part of the story I repeat as it was told to me by several others. None of the stories have changed, so there’s no reason to believe its bullshit.

As I understand it, the company had an intern one summer who’s roommate was a screenwriter. This screenwriter had written a script, let’s call it LEGENDARY SPEC, and gave it to said intern to read, who ultimately loved it. The intern brought LEGENDARY SPEC into the company and gave it to the Creative Executive (CE) at the time. The CE loved it and showed it to the President of Production at the time. Who…yup, you guessed it…loved it.

The President of Production showed it to Cobra Commander, and he wanted it. They made a deal with the writer and BOOM. Off to the races. At the time, Cobra Commander had a deal at (INSERT STUDIO NAME HERE) and quickly set it up.

THE LEGEND GROWS…

As I understand it, it flew around town and everyone raved about it. It quickly became one of the more sought after projects. Several big named directors were met with and one finally signed on. He was (and still is) a big time A-lister. They eventually went hard into development and that’s when it all turned to shit.

NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Working in Development - Development Hell by Manny Fonseca | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwritingYou know when you read in Variety or Hollywood Reporter that a director left over “creative differences?” What that roughly translates to, in this case, is that the producer (Cobra Commander) was a condescending prick that felt (and still feels) he knows better than everyone else.

While all of this was happening, several change within the company occurred. The CE that had brought in the script had moved up to become the President of Production. He was riding the wave of the success of “finding” LEGENDARY SPEC. Unfortunately, he couldn’t bridge the peace between Cobra Commander and the A-Lister.

Eventually the A-list director left the project to work on a much BIGGER movie.

As for the writer, his deal with the company and the subsequent success of LEGENDARY SPEC led to him becoming extremely sought after so he moved on to other things while Cobra Commander tried to land another director.

Another director (equally as big, although never quite the right fit for the project) attached himself only to go through the same bullshit with Cobra Commander. He too walked.

And the script sat there. Dormant.


Script EXTRA: The Challenge of Attaching Actors to Scripts


MANNY JOINS THE COMPANY…

As an intern, one of the first things we all had to do was read and give notes on all of the scripts that the company currently had in active development. I was eager to read this script in particular because of its legendary status. By the time I started working there, it had topped EVERY list of best unproduced scripts in Hollywood.

I read it and was seriously disappointed for a couple of reasons. One, the legend of it had raised the bar in my mind of what a script should be. Like, seriously, for years this was THE script. I personally never thought it lived up to the hype.

Second, to be fair to the writer and the project, I have no idea what draft I read. I’m disappointed that I was never able to read the true draft that landed A-lister and a studio deal. By the time I got my hands on it, it has been bastardized by Cobra Commander.

I joined the company in 2010 which means this script had been “in development” for 5 years at this point. At the beginning of 2011, the CE who had become the President of Production, left the company to pursue a different career. His replacement quickly tried to put LEGENDARY SPEC back together. They reached out to a fairly hot director, who was coming off some major success. He knew the script, loved the script and wanted in.

So he signed on.

COBRA COMMANDER FUCKS IT UP…AGAIN…

It didn’t take long for the hot director to run into the problems that the previous two had gone through. A few months later, he too would bail.

Not wanting to give up, the New President quickly swept up a hot, new filmmaker that would be perfect for the material. It only took a few weeks for Cobra Commander to fuck that one up.

New filmmaker explained to Cobra Commander, that he would just need a couple of weeks to wrap up post production on his latest flick and then he’d be all in on LEGENDARY SPEC. Quite the impatient man, Cobra Commander decided to call him up a few days later and chew him a new asshole for “dragging his ass and seemingly not wanting to make this movie.”

Needless to say, it only took a few hours after that phone call, for his agents to call and politely pass on LEGENDARY SPEC.

BRING IN NUMBER THREE…

In 2012, (now in year seven for those keeping score) New President landed another, more experienced director to helm the project. I have to give experienced director a lot of credit. He hung in there, man, and it was rough. One day The Baroness called me up and wanted me to have an ink stamp made. She wanted it to say, in bold letters, “YOU’RE WRONG” in red.

wrongI had no idea why, but I did it anyway. I later found out it was so that Cobra Commander could stamp YOU’RE WRONG on pages of the script where experienced director made his handwritten notes.

Cobra Commander and The Baroness thought it was funny.

Can we just step back and let that marinate for a second? I mean, can you believe that shit? Two grown adults childishly berating another adult in the most condescending way possible? A person that these people NEED to make their fucking movie! A person who, by the way, had actually made movies recently!

As opposed to Cobra Commander and The Baroness, who had not been relevant since, well, the actual Cobra Commander and Baroness!

Wanna take a guess how THAT turned out?

You guessed it, experienced director bailed to, you know…make movies.

Once experienced director left, Cobra Commander decided to do a re-write of the script himself. I never fully read his draft, only certain scenes. As a writer, I was appalled…as a human, I was disgusted. Imagine if Trump has done a rewrite on a classic film…I apologize ahead of time to all of the female readers for being crass, but let’s just say that a lot of “tits” were added to the script.

He thought that, after almost 8 years, he finally had the draft they needed to move forward. His plan? To take it to the only two people he could see to make this movie: Spielberg and DiCaprio.

It’s no surprise that pipe dream never happened.


Script EXTRA: Download a FREE Rewrite Checklist


A HAPPY ENDING…

New President left the company at the end of 2012, I soon followed a couple of months later in early 2013. My replacement was a former intern of mine. Another former intern, who had left in 2011 to go on to make a name for herself in the development world, came back in mid-2013 to act as a sort of Creative Executive/President of Production hybrid.

Obviously I still had eyes and ears in the company. What I know from here, I heard from them and read about on Deadline (mixed in with some fantasy).

You see, the one thing that Cobra Commander did successfully in all these years, is make everyone attached to the project hate him. And those that hate together…stay together. The original A-lister and the screenwriter never lost touch. Years later they would team up to work on a massive tentpole picture.

carnival2I like to imagine that, while working on that movie, they talked. They relived old times. The two of them hated TOGETHER. It’s in those moments that I like to fantasize that a plot to take LEGENDARY SPEC away from Cobra Commander was born.

It’s my understanding that the WGA has a clause that basically states that “if you ain’t done shit with a script in X number of years, then the writer can take it back.” Clearly I don’t know the legalities behind it or the exact details, but the bottom-line is that, in 2014, Cobra Commander lost his crown jewel.

It didn’t take long for the A-lister and the screenwriter to set up the project somewhere else, without Cobra Commander attached. It was picked up by another studio in 2015, quickly developed in 2016 and we should all see the result of what will be 12 years of work in 2017.

SO THERE YOU GO…

Development hell. It’s a real thing.

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2 thoughts on “NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Working in Development – Development Hell

  1. Michael TabbMichael Tabb

    …And by saying it cannot be reaquired, I mean there’s very little chance in hell the people who bought it would ever let it go. Most Cobra Commanders would rather sit on a script rather than risk letting another producer show them up in front of the whole town and turn it into a success. Now, it’s not the mature thing to do, but, sadly, that is how the cookie most frequently crumbles.

  2. Michael TabbMichael Tabb

    Because you mentioned the process part of the WGA rule for getting a script back, the technical term is REACQUISITION. This can be done between five and ten years after an orginal spec screenplay has been purchased by a WGA-signatory company. During that time, the writer can buy back the script. After ten years, the rule no longer applies, and the script cannot be reacquired. I hope this answers your question.

    Kind regards,

    Michael Tabb
    WGA Writer

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